Four ENGOs respond to MEPA’s ODZ Review Objectives
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In a joint statement this afternoon, ENGOs Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth, Malta Organic Agriculture Movement and Ramblers’ Association of Malta said that “over the past 25 years Malta has lost over 1,300 hectares of agricultural land to development, a loss that is still increasing due to the development of Rationalisation zones.”
The ENGOs have responded to MEPA’s reviews of Out of Development Zone (ODZ) policies by asserting that in such areas, protection of the environment must take precedence over development. “Structures like supermarkets, schools and homes for the elderly which have hitherto been built in ODZ areas, should be kept within the urban envelope where buildings are available. Such locations ensure access, social integration and reduction of commuting emissions.”
“MEPA proposes to merge three main ODZ policy documents,” however the ENGOS call for the incorporation of all policies relating to ODZ areas and agricultural activities “including the Settlement Design Statement (SDS), Local Plan Policies CG 22-28 regarding the protection of areas of agricultural value, as well as the soil classification exercise have never been completed and ratified.”
The ENGOs said that they “support measures to assist the genuine farmer; all too often in the past genuine farmers have been refused permits for essential structures while permits for villas or even discos and wedding halls were issued instead. Conversely the groups highlight the fact that the Farm Diversification and Stables Document has created a loophole by which any agricultural structure can apply for a change of use, thus increasing non-agricultural buildings in the countryside.”
“In spite of the fact that the water crisis has been discussed for years, boreholes are still not metered.” The NGOs urge the Authorities to carry out every effort to redirect good-quality waste water which is presently being disposed of in the sea.
“While quarries continue to blight our countryside, the price of stone remains cheap and wastage is rife.” The ENGOs said that they call on the authorities to curb the expansion of quarries and to encourage the efficient use of extractive resources.
On the encouragement of agro-tourism accommodation the ENGOs said that they “maintain that, given the proximity of villages to rural areas, encouraging the construction of tourism accommodation Out of Development Zone undermines the very concept of agro-tourism.”
The “redevelopment/rehabilitation of permitted old building with the scope of eliminating the damaging visual intrusion on the rural scene” can be used as a smoke screen to permit more urban sprawl in the countryside.
The NGOs maintain that rural settlements should be “conserved, consolidated and rehabilitated while protecting their rural character, however pre-1967 buildings do not usually cause damaging visual intrusion on the rural scene.” The NGOs ask if this is being used as a pretext to allow further opportunistic development in agricultural areas such as happened in the infamous development in the heart of the Bahrija Natura 2000 site.
The ENGOs highlight the danger of the simplification of the planning process becoming an institutional tactic to bypass regulations. “It is useless to formulate laws to regulate development without the commitment to enforcement these regulations. MEPA needs to adopt a proactive approach to prevent abuse in rural areas by strengthening the Enforcement Directorate and giving it additional legal powers to support rapid action, rather than the present laws that hamper enforcement.”
“Other issues include public access to the countryside, the lack of maintenance of rubble walls as well as the need for an integrated approach to agriculture and wider environmental issues. The ODZ policy should seek to encourage sustainable agriculture such as organic farming.
“Above all the ENGOS call for a stop to further building in the countryside on Rationalisation zone sites,” the statement concluded.